On Oct. 26, after the Founders’ Day Ceremony that included the Matriculation Oath and planting the First Year Tree, the Class of 2027 was invited to sign their names in the Matriculation Book. They joined a long line of almost 24,000 students who have left their mark on Kenyon history in one of the three volumes.
Housed in Special Collections and Archives on Chalmers Library L1, the leather-bound matriculation books are some of the few items kept in a fireproof safe — a testament to how carefully the College preserves students’ inscriptions. The first volume contains signatures from 1841 to 1955, the second from 1956 to 2009 and the third from 2010 on. In Special Collections and Archives, there is a guide that helps students locate what page the signatures of certain prominent alumni are on.
According to Outreach Librarian for Special Collections and Archives Eve Kausch, the first people to put their names down on the first matriculation book were President Rutherford B. Hayes (Class of 1842) and 28 of his fellow students. On the page next to the signatures was the handwritten remark of the then-Kenyon president David Bates Douglass confirming that the matriculants were now “bona fide members incorporate of the Society of Kenyon.”
Kenyon has long had a tumultuous relationship with coeducation, and a Collegian issue published on Aug. 27 in 2009 reported that it was in 1972 that female students were first formally admitted into the College and allowed to sign the matriculation book. Before 1972, they attended a separate coordinate college on the Kenyon campus, so in 1972, female students who became new sophomores, juniors and seniors of Kenyon signed their names in the year they started college. However, according to Kausch, some female students made a point of refusing to sign the matriculation book retroactively as an expression of their indignation toward being refused this rite of passage in the first place.
It is common for alumni to come back years after their graduation to put their names in the “Kenyon family bibles,” as Tom Stamp ’73, College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana, endearingly called the tomes. For example, John Green ’00 did not sign the matriculation book until he returned to campus in 2013 to give a speech. The matriculation books are also brought out on several occasions besides Founders’ Day such as Family Weekend, Reunion Weekend and Commencement. On these days, alumni who had missed this important ritual during their time on the Hill visit the Archives. According to Kausch, on this year’s Founders’ Day, an alumnus from the 1970s came back to Kenyon to finally sign his name in the matriculation books, around 50 years after graduation.
Recording one’s place in the almost-two-century-long succession of distinguished alumni can be a high-stakes task, Kausch acknowledged: “It was very fun to see how people were really nervous. Like, ‘This is a lot of pressure,’ ‘I should have practiced my signature,’ when in actuality, it was a little bit anticlimactic.” But if one flips through the aging pages of the three volumes, one noticeable thing is that the matriculation books have always welcomed mistakes and idiosyncrasies of Kenyon students. Names have always been misspelled and crossed out, written in different colors, fonts and, in recent years, different languages. Although today, students are required to use standardized pens with acid-free ink that won’t degrade the paper, that didn’t stop Kenyon students from filling the pages with their unique signatures together.
Students wishing to see Kenyon’s signature tradition unfolding throughout the years can come to Special Collections and Archives on Chalmers L1.